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Woman sitting crossed legged on the ground with a disgusted look on her face spraying something directed at a cat in a litter box. There are smell lines emanating from the litter box.

The Battle of the Odors

My cats bring me such happiness and comfort. Those of you with animals likely know how wonderful it feels to have a little being in your house who loves you unconditionally and often cuddles with you when you aren’t feeling very well. My two cats, Satchel (a handsome gray tabby) and Cubbie (a solid black dynamo), make me laugh all the time. And having to care for them can keep me in a routine myself. It’s hard to sleep more than I ought to when there are meows of despair or scratching at the bedroom door—the cats are trying to tell me how hungry they are, or how much they want to come in and cuddle.

The pain of cleaning a litter box

Unfortunately, cats—just like every other animal, including humans—have basic biological needs. They poop and pee regularly, which means that their human must clean up after them. And most cats are rather fastidious and do not like climbing into a litter box that hasn’t been tidied up recently. I mean, would you like to poop in a container that was already marred with waste? I didn’t think so.

When I am unwell and cannot clean the litter box as often as I’d like to (bending down can really aggravate my migraine attack), the cats sometimes go to the bathroom near but not in the litter box. The boys are trying their best to follow house rules, which I appreciate. But the rumors about cat pee are true: it. smells. horrible.

Cat urine vs. cleaning product odors

Cat urine reeks of ammonia and can make an entire house smell if it’s not taken care of right away. And it can’t be cleaned up with an ammonia-based cleaner—that just increases the chance that the cats, who are driven by scent, will pee in that same place again. One must use ammonia-free, enzymatic cleaner to fully eradicate the cat pee smell and clean up the mess.

But here’s the rub: the options for enzymatic cleaner, at least at my local pet store, are limited. I went to buy some recently and was disappointed to see that the usual bottle I bought was no longer being made. Instead, I purchased a similar product that boasted a “new, fresh scent.” I wasn’t able to smell the cleanser (it was sealed), but I figured it had to be better than the smell of cat pee.

Except it wasn’t, in a way.

Blessed and cursed with a strong sense of smell

True that the average human would prefer to smell a flowery cleaning product than even a half-cup of cat urine. But we migraineurs are not average humans—and we’ve been both blessed and cursed with a sense of smell that is far more attuned to the world than most people’s.

What do you do when you need to eradicate a gross, non-migraine-triggering odor or stain but your only available option is to use a chemical that will likely trigger a migraine? This is a catch-22 I am unlucky enough to deal with in my home, and I’m over it. I did find a slightly better-smelling enzymatic cleaner, but even that one can get on my nerves if I’m not feeling well when I use it.

Do you animal lovers have any tips or tricks for me? What do you do when you encounter a battle of the odors?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • dpasek
    1 month ago

    Just use pine pellet litter or wood stove pellets as filler for your litter box. The cats get used to it quickly and you will never again have any ammonia smell, even if the litter box is loaded. Wood pellets have an absolutely incredible absorption capacity for liquids and the wood seems to be a very effective suppressor of bacterial growth. Try it.

  • marti
    1 month ago

    I don’t really have a problem with cat odors, but a lot of cleaning products do trigger a migraine. Bleach is the absolute WORST! To clean up the kitty accidents, I use Clorox Pet Urine Remover – it doesn’t smell great, but there’s no bleach in it, it works, and the smell is tolerable for me. We have a house full of cats so it’s critical that we stay ahead of any messes.

  • AprilAriesPb
    1 month ago

    I have an issue with scented everything. So I understand the pain. I find 2 things that make my life easier when dealing with cats and migraines. 1. I use a mix of unscented litter mixed with the pine litter (not the pellets). This removes most litter/ waste odors and makes cleaning the box so much easier. (And less stinky!) 2. I use the Branch Basic cleaners. It cleans everything, is safe for pets and children, and has no scent. Cleaning my house has become so much easier since I found this brand. (It is truly unscented.)
    Good luck! Gotta take care of those fur babies that love us so much when we can’t even stand ourselves.

  • Peggy Artman moderator
    2 months ago

    The migraine girl, thanks for sharing your story. I have a cat too, but the smells don’t seem to bother me.

    I think you shared some good tips. The only difference with me is I use a Litter Genie and I keep a very large litter box for my my cat. This way, it’s easier to clean old litter and to put fresh litter in. It’s also good if I’m not feeling well, since he has a large box.

    I love cats too! They are so comforting, especially when I’m having a migraine attack.
    ~ Peggy ( team)

  • glassmind
    2 months ago

    Litter Champ or Litter Genie are good. If affordable the higher end pails designed for diapers can be even better as some completely seal each “deposit” with a twist where as the litter ones just kinda clamp the bag

  • glassmind
    2 months ago

    I have cats and Migraine.

    My cats are wonderful companions always and good pals during a migraine, but, yep, dealing with the box adds to migraine complications.

    I use Nature’s Miracle Enzyme cleaner for “accidents”. I order online from petco. Despite claiming to be fragrance-free, it does have an inherent scent, which I can always detect, but is tolerable even during a migraine (well, as tolerable as any scent can be.). It is extremely effective and by far smells better than pet waste.

    I find pine based litter most effective at odor control and least migraine irritating.

    I have friends with older cats who regularly “miss” the box. Thier solution was to place extra large puppy “training pads” under and around the box. Also ordered online for cost savings.

    Tea tree and thyme oils are effective disinfectants and can be either mixed with water or found in natural-based cleaning products. I personally can tolerate these better than chemical or bleach based products. Lavender actually helps with migraine for me and has some disinfectant properties also. I use these three for regular cleaning. (Non accidents, just cleaning the box regularly)

    Another idea is to have extra boxes always availible. Then when you have a migraine, these will buy you some extra time between cleanings.

    I wish the best for you in finding suitable products for your cats and you.

  • Crystal.Harper
    2 months ago

    These are all such great tips! I really appreciate you taking the time to share with everyone. Hope you’re doing well these days!
    Kindly, Crystal

  • glassmind
    2 months ago

    You’re welcome. Hope things work out for you!

    P.S. I wear disposable surgical masks when doing a complete litter change also.

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